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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Alan Sillitoe, adapted for the stage by Matthew Dunster
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Perry Fitzpatrick as Arthur Seaton Credit: Jonathan Keenan
Perry Fitzpatrick as Arthur Seaton and Clare Galbraith as Brenda Credit: Jonathan Keenan
Tamla Kari as Doreen and Perry Fitzpatrick as Arthur Seaton Credit: Jonathan Keenan

With many similarities in character, theme and plot to Alfie, recently revived by the Octagon, and the same geographical setting of Nottingham as the Library's current production of The Daughter-in-Law, Matthew Dunster returns to the Royal Exchange to direct his own adaptation of Alan Silllitoe's 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

The plot is fairly slight, but centres around the selfish character of Arthur Seaton who lives, like Alfie Elkins, only for his own pleasure. He works in the bicycle factory in Nottingham but is carrying on with his friend Jack's wife Brenda, especially when Jack starts working nights. He also starts sleeping with Brenda's sister Winnie, but her husband Bill, home on leave from the army, catches up with him and beats him up with a couple of mates, leaving him bedridden for a while.

Arthur has also been having a rather more innocent relationship with Doreen, and after he is beaten up he admits to his affairs with the two married sisters. We are left with the suggestion that they may have a chance at a real relationship.

The opening scene sets the tone of the production with loud music, shouting and characters shouting their lines over recordings of them saying the same words. If this had any value other than as a gimmick, it went straight over my head. This is one of those productions that, quite literally, makes a song and dance of its scene changes using fully-choreographed routines with the cast moving furniture about the stage to music; occasionally this can be very effective, but more often than not—as here—it only serves to make a production that's already too long drag out for even longer.

There are some scenes where the production settles into telling a story or showing a real scene or conversation between characters—in fact the start of act two starts to look promising as the narrative picks up and starts to draw you in—but soon the toys come out again and we get multiple scenes overlapping, chorus members dressed inexplicably like whoever Arthur is sleeping with at that moment, people and objects on a conveyor belt and two tiny revolves in the middle of the stage, people dressing and undressing continually and various other diversionary techniques.

Strangely amongst all this noise, there are some scenes in which almost nothing happens for a long time. It's hard not to feel sorry for Clare Calbraith—who gives a great performance as Brenda—who spends a very long, dull scene sat naked in a bath of water in the middle of the stage.

Perry Fitzpatrick is great as Arthur with just the right look and attitude, and as well as Calbraith there are good performances from his other girfriends with Chanel Cresswell as Winnie and Tamla Kari as Doreen. All other parts are very small with actors doubling up, but there are some lovely characters from David Crellin as Arthur's father Harold and Graeme Hawley as Jack, amongst others.

Anna Fleischle's set design is certainly impressive and there are some nice ideas, such as the curved curtain rail that brings in a rack of Arthur's suits from one side and components for the bicycle factory from the other, and having a character stand on a turntable to deliver a monologue is interesting and works well for theatre-in-the-round.

But the way the design and the mixture of styles from Dunster's various influences are applied just seems so superficial and does nothing to enhance the experience of watching the play, except, perhaps, to divert attention from a rather thin script. It's hard to believe that this came from the same writer and director as I Know Where The Dead Are Buried at last year's 24:7 Theatre Festival. The only conclusion I can draw is that if he has a tiny stage and budget and only an hour to fill he can produce an intense and compelling drama, but remove those limitations and give him all the toys that the Royal Exchange can provide to play with and he will lose focus and produce a sprawling hodgepodge of scenes and styles such as this.

Reviewer: David Chadderton